Travel Diary » Exploring Arrowtown's Chinese Settlement
After a month of rainy weekends, this Sunday the sun finally came out. Just in time I might say! There's not a lot to do in Queenstown when it's raining so after four weekends stuck at home apart from the occasional library visit, I was starting to resort to taking the kids to the grocery store just to get out of the house. Truly a sign of desperation when Mum is willingly tackling a grocery store visit with all it's "Can we get a kinder surprise? They're only $2 ... why not? What about lollies? Please ...", usually followed by "She hit me. Mum... Well he looked at me".
With the sun out we decided to drive to nearby Arrowtown. Friends were going to meet us later at the town's skate park but with the nice weather we decided to go early to go for a walk in the sun, skip stones across the river and have a picnic lunch thanks to the town's excellent bakery.
Three years after the discovery of gold in 1862 in this region, richer gold fields opened up on the west coast of the South Island and most of the European miners moved onto the newer goldfields. To help boost the local economy, the local council invited Chinese miners and business men to come to the area. Despite being officially invited, they were never really welcome. Prejudice, lack of community and council support and unfair attempts to impose extra taxes on the immigrants (which were eventually passed by the council) led them to settle in small communities in gullies no one else wanted on the edge of towns close to their claims.
The Arrowtown Chinese Settlement is one of roughly ten Chinese settlements that developed adjacent to Otago goldfields towns and is the only settlement that hasn't fallen victim to development.
The site is an easy two minute walk north of the centre of town and is free to visit. There are information signs on the buildings and the history of the community. Several of the buildings have been restored and the public are able to enter each of them.
Thanks to the fact that you can go inside all the buildings this is one of the best activity you can do with kids in this area. It's free, educational and with all those houses to explore it's hands on and a lot of fun.
The first building that you come across entering the settlement is the old corner store.
It is much larger than the rest of the houses, with a stone floor and simple wooden walls inside to create several rooms.
Outside the store is a restored pit toilet. Hayley asked me not to include a photo of it because "it is soooo disgusting". Says the child that's been using scary squat toilets in Asia for most of her life!
(Don't worry, nearby are rather clean modern toilets in case your kids need to go while you are visiting!)
As you can see from the photo, the houses that the settlers lived in were tiny. The settlers were poor and this house was one of the smallest. Inside it was similar in size to a small 4 person tent and would have slept that a similar amount of men. The slightly larger houses are thought to have houses 6 men at a time.
All of the houses featured a single small room with a small chimney area to cook in. The construction was simple - a dirt floor, mud-brick or stone walls and a tin roof lined with hessian bags.
Some of the settlers built in the cliff-face above their vegetable gardens. It offered more shelter from the elements and I guess they were cheaper to build since less materials were required to construct it. You really only needed a front wall and a floor. Behind the front wall was a small rocky alcove with an overhanging rock roof.
There's not too much walking involved and plenty of options for exploring, whether it's checking out the houses or running through the wide spaces between them trying to spot the ruins of old houses and imagining what they must have been like. The houses are the perfect size for young children to explore and try to imagine how someone (or in this case usually several someones) lived, cooked and slept in here in comparison to the huge houses they are used to.
It's also a bit of eye opener for parents too ... it really makes you think about just how much space do you really need to live comfortably. I'd definitely like more space than this but how much more do you really need? There are so many places in the world where families still live in houses not that dissimilar to these ... it really makes you look at your 4 bedroom, giant living room house filled with couches, toys and televisions a little differently.
Just next to the settlement is a small stream that's perfect for floating sticks down. Near the start of the settlement is a bridge that takes you across the stream. If you follow the path to the right over the bridge you'll find yourself at the main river where you can either stop to skip stones or walk on further down the 4WD track to find some fantastic places to explore.
By car it's very easy. Just follow the signs to Arrowtown, a 15minute drive from Queenstown or 10 minutes from Frankton. Buses also runs from Frankton's main bus stop near the roundabout directly to Arrowtown. If you are coming from Queenstown you'll need to catch a bus to Frankton first of course.
Once in Arrowtown look for the bakery at the top of the main street. Facing downhill towards the public carpark and river turn left. The Chinese Settlement is around 500m down this road. You can see the old corner store from the bakery.
The skate park is down near the river in the opposite direction. It's directly in front of the Lakes District Museum, another great family outing. You can rent pans to look for gold from the museum. Arrowtown is a great place to visit with kids. There's so much history and nature to explore, and it's all within a 5 minute walk.
This post is part of the weekly Travel Photo Thursday at Budget Travelers Sandbox. Be sure to take a look - Budget Travelers Sandbox has some gorgeous photos of Myanmar this week!